Everton 2 - 0 Bournemouth
Ever since the Roberto Martinez fairytale started to turn sour, somewhere between the Europa League defeat in Kiev in March 2015 and the consecutive home defeats to Leicester and Stoke the following Christmas, the issue of Goodison Park’s atmosphere has periodically been a topic of debate among Evertonians.
Where the librarial milieu that away fans like to mock is concerned, there’s often a push-pull between those who feel it’s incumbent on the crowd to generate the atmosphere from the off and those who put the onus on the team to excite the fans. Then, of course, there’s the altogether more concerning toxicity that was prevalent at times under Bobby Brown Shoes and then Ronald Koeman, something that was brought into sharper focus by Nikola Vlasic last week when he spoke of Everton’s players being paralysed by fear.
There might not have been outright fear to this point among the Blues’ ranks this season but the psychology has been off kilter since the derby defeat at Anfield and concerns over Everton’s home form since has been reflected in the performances. While there may be a general consensus that Marco Silva is going to need time and a good deal of patience to rectify the problems sown during those two regimes and the interim Sam Allardyce tenure, it’s been fairly obvious that supporters have been hugely disappointed with the way in which yet another season came off the rails.
Under those circumstances, it probably wasn’t surprising that there was an air of uneasiness about the place when what was an important game against Bournemouth kicked off at the unusual time of 2.15pm. With no home wins since late November and on a run of just Premier League win in eight since then, the importance of three points here wasn’t lost on anybody.
By the time the hour mark approached, however, roused by an additional common enemy, the villain of the piece wearing black and an improving, more robust and committed display by the players, Goodison was a good deal more animated and half an hour later the Evertonian collective was celebrating a victory. An ugly victory that masked some continuing issues but a victory nonetheless which will hopefully inject some confidence into the Blues’ veins.
Silva has routinely asked for more aggression from his team and he got plenty of it today even if, spurred on by seething injustice at one of the most inept refereeing displays seen at Goodison in quite a while, André Gomes in particular threatened to cross the line on more than a few occasions.
Having been harshly yellow-carded when he reacted to the latest in a litany of bafflingly poor decisions by Anthony Taylor, the Portuguese dangerously toed a tightrope in the closing stages and was fortunate not to see red.
Ultimately, though, Taylor’s horrendous refereeing provided the focal point that roused the Goodison faithful from that uncomfortable silence that had enveloped the majority of the ground as Everton laboured through a fairly torrid first half hour. Where Bournemouth, a side on a run of 10 defeats from 13 coming into the game and five losses on the bounce away from the Vitality Stadium, were zipping the ball around comfortably at times, the Toffees struggled to string three passes together in the face of the visitors’ pressing.
Not surprisingly, all the openings in the first quarter of an hour were created by Eddie Howe’s team. First, Ryan Fraser popped up in acres of space on the far side of the box to collect an overhit cross from the right and Jordan Pickford benefited from Josh King’s failure to dig the ball out from under his feet and was able to make a close-range save.
Then, David Brooks easily evaded Gomes and went down in the box appealing in vain for a penalty and Jefferson Lerma hammered a shot over the bar before Brooks was played into a one-on-one situation with Pickford but struck his shot off the post with Goodison erupting in boos at referee Taylor for failing to bring the play back for an obvious foul on Kurt Zouma.
It was the first of many baffling and infuriating decisions by the official who ratcheted up Evertonian ire when he awarded Adam Smith a free kick for falling into Gomes on the edge of the box. Pickford was equal to it, pushing Junior Stanislas’s free kick behind but the England keeper, with his international boss, Gareth Southgate in attendance in the directors’ box, set the nerves jangling shortly afterwards when he gave the ball straight to the visitors and was relieved to see King head Fraser’s cross over.
Everton, largely passed off their own patch for 30 minutes, then gradually came to life, with Ademola Lookman, handed another start in place of Theo Walcott, leading the charge. It was his cross from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s cross that picked out Bernard in the centre but the diminutive Brazilian couldn’t put his header on target, and it was the same duo who reversed roles soon afterwards with Lookman just failing to control Bernard’s dangerous cross in front of goal.
Michael Keane would drop a header from a Lucas Digne cross onto the top of the crossbar late in the half before Richarlison, struggling to impact the contest as the loan striker, was finally awarded a free kick outside the box but Digne fired it into the wall.
In contrast to recent matches, whatever Silva said in the dressing room at half time had the desired effect of injecting some urgency into his players who emerged from the interval in more purposeful mood. And after Gomes had skied an immediate chance into the Gwladys Street End, Richarlison came within inches of padding this tally for the season.
The Brazilian’s header off Idrissa Gueye’s cross came back to him off a defender and his follow-up shot appeared goal-bound until Nathan Aké cleared it, literally off the goal line, and the chance was lost.
Steve Cook glanced a header onto the roof of the net at one end to remind the Blues that the Cherries remained a threat but the deadlock was broken at the other in the 61st minute thanks to a wonderful piece of individual endeavour from Digne.
An attempted Seamus Coleman cross off Lookman’s pass was blocked behind for another corner and when that delivery was nodded outside the box by the visiting defence, the ball was collected in stride by Digne. The Frenchman drove to the byline and, going away from goal, he expertly hooked a cross to the edge of the six-yard box where Zouma powered home his first Everton goal.
Bournemouth were unbowed, though, and an often bad-tempered affair remained nervily close until stoppage time, with the referee’s incompetence fuelling anger on both sides. Taylor awarded another dubious free kick, this time against Gueye even though he had clearly got a toe on the ball, leading to a furious reaction from Gomes who got booked for squaring up to an opponent in the aftermath.
Then, after Richarlison had headed a teasing Sigurdsson cross wide and Keane’s slip-up had let King in but the striker had smashed into the side-netting, Gomes escaped a second yellow when he easily could have walked for catching Cook after the ball had gone.
It said much about Silva’s faith — or dependence — on his compatriot that he left Gomes on the pitch until the final whistle because he looked like a red card waiting to happen in the closing stages.
Bournemouth were staging a last-ditch attempt to grab a point and Pickford was called upon to slide out of his six-yard box to block one effort and Keane made a brilliant saving tackle to deny
Fraser Gosling a minute or so later, the goalkeeper again required to get his body in the way to see the Cherries defender’s follow-up shot behind.
In between, Gomes had got away with a sly pull around Nathaniel Clyne's head just inside the Everton area that, had the officials seen it, would have resulted in his certain dismissal and a penalty to the away side but his transgression was only picked up television replays.
Yerry Mina was thrown on by Silva in injury time to bolster the defence but Everton remained jittery as Coleman mis-controlled and conceded another corner before a second set-piece seconds later ended in Pickford’s arms.
One last boot downfield from the keeper eventually ended with Lookman scrambling to his feet after knocking the ball infield and running into space down the left flank to collect Gueye's pass where he held up long enough for substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin to arrive about 16 yards out to stroke the winger’s pass into the net with a wonderfully composed finish.
It was a reminder of what the young striker can do at a time when Everton’s lack of cutting edge up front dominates the thinking. Calvert-Lewin has struggled to show the consistency required of a first-choice starter but can produce clinical moments like this one and chip in with important goals.
It was also pleasing that his assist was provided by Lookman, a reward and consequence of a man-of-the-match display that was the first concrete example of him demonstrating he can produce over the course of 90 minutes and not just as an impact sub.
More will be asked of him, of course, particularly next week at Southampton at away ground, but his undoubted natural talent, movement and eye for goal are the kinds of qualities that Everton are going to need over the remainder of the season.
What remains to be seen now, though, is what effect this result has on the nature of Everton’s performances going forward and whether it’s a fillip that can get them back to playing the way they were pre-Anfield. The lack of passing options, an over-reliance on getting the ball wide for crosses into the box and the disconnect that is often in evidence between the midfield and the two central forward players continue to be a concern and a challenge for Silva to resolve.